BAY COUNTY, Fla. - Last month's death of 12 year-old Surfside middle school student Gabriella Green has thrust Cyberbullying to the front of Bay County's collective conscious.
What's shocking is many parents have no idea if their child is Cyberbullying victim, or even the bully. The explosion of technology has provided kids the opportunity to bully through new anonymous apps and emerging social media platforms.
Cyberbullying has always been an issue, but after recent local events, parents are fighting for solutions to the problem. But is it too big of a problem to solve?
A sad day at Surfside middle school as students mourn the loss of one of their own. 12 year-old Gabriella Green, gone too soon-- a target of Cyberbullying and now the face of a grassroots campaign led by angry parents and students. As technology advances more each day, kids are able to find new ways to harass each other via social media and apps.
"Yeah, of course anyone can hide behind a keyboard and act tough. The problem is, we try to differentiate too much between what bullying actually is," said Concerned Parent, John Shepard.
Since Green's death, parents are concerned for their own, and say Cyberbullying is just as harmful as physical bullying. "Bullying is still bullying. It doesn't change based on the platform," said Shepard.
But how do students bully? Through anonymous apps like 'Sarahah', a site originally meant for anonymous compliments, students can message each other hurtful words and threats.
"When their name is not on it, it's a lot easier for them to use it and say something mean, hurtful, and bully these other children because they don't think it's coming back to them," said Panama City Beach Police Captain, Robert Clarkson.
Parents say these problems don't start on the apps, they start in the schools. "It's certainly not okay for some of that being picked on to originate in school, to perpetuate itself onto social media," said Shepard. Officials respond, saying "it's not that simple."
"It's sometimes hard to put discipline actions in place for something that's not done at the school itself. Cyberbullying is something very interesting because it can be done anywhere. It can be done from any device, and it can be done anonymously these days," said School Board Member District 4, Ryan Neves.
However, district officials say there should be a plan or policy in place to handle these types of situations. "We need to be able to at least start laying the groundwork to be able to handle those situations," said Neves.
The easiest 'at-home' solution? monitor your child's social media. "Parents have to be aware of what's on their child's phone and look at their child's phone," said Captain Clarkson.
With more apps emerging each day, it's hard to know what's safe and what's not. Parents can screen apps for safety through the website smart social which categorizes them. Green apps are safe to use, gray encourages parental supervision. Then there are the red apps, a long list of anonymous apps that can lead to Cyberbullying or risky behavior.
Social media is constantly growing and officials say the only way to currently combat Cyberbullying is to monitor your child's activity and set parental controls for risky apps. However, the problem will continue to be an uphill battle.
"If you protect yourself from what's out today, you're not protecting yourself from what's going to be out tomorrow," said Neves.
As a parent, monitoring your child's device, or even taking it from them, is a strong course of action.
It's not the popular choice, but officials say sometimes it's the right one. The Sarahah app comes from Saudi Arabia which will not honor subpoenas from the US. That makes it more difficult to investigate Cyberbullying cases.
To find out if the apps on your child's phone is safe, check out https://smartsocial.com/ and click on the Parent App Guide.
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